Saturday, March 15, 2008

Saturday morning ramble #159

Some random rambling around some stories, links and articles that caught my eye around the net this week ...  but first, the week's most popular posts here at NOT PC, in case you missed them first time 'round:

  1. Where's Jesus?
  2. Dover pisses on political correctness
  3. New sins for a new century
  4. Bureaucrats: Flip Flop Boy promises "more with less"
  5. What's a railway worth?
  6. Celebrity debate

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What might the ACT party do? They're holding their election-year conference this weekend and struggling to keep their head above electoral water -- this conference, they hope, will throw them the lifeline they need. Crikey, they've even re-publicised old Dodger Rugless as the country's would-be saviour, and invited along the insane Penny Bright to talk to them about her career disrupting other people's business -- presumably in the hope she'll get arrested and start some momentum-gathering headlines, if anyone can stop her talking first.

Anyway, with National assiduously trying to outflank Labour on the left that should leave ACT plenty of territory to carve out on the other flank if it weren't so intent on not frightening the horses (there was a time when they promised to abolish tax, now they just offer to "cap" tax).

Liberty Scott puts forward ten red-hot policies ACToids could put forward if they were really interested in policies instead of playing around -- serious about being seen as a genuine alternative to National's Labour-Lite -- which reminds me to remind you of the five straightforward policy options I put about before the last election that it could adopt if it wanted to be taken seriously as a genuine freedom party...

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Hippies.  No one likes 'em. As Ronald Reagan once observed, ‘they look like Tarzan, walk like Jane, and smell like Cheetah."  Naturally, only someone old enough to be one or hate them all would know what that means ... but I'm pretty sure Ronny would like how John Stewart's Daily Show Bodyslams Berkeley Hippies.  "Oh you're vicious, you hit me with a flower..."

Supporters of state interventionism and government meddling frequently cite the twin canards of 'market failure' and 'the free rider problem' as reasons not to let freedom reign.

Two articles from the Mises blog should disabuse any reasonable reader of these notions, or at least point the interested reader to literature that does:

A third could be recommended to the reader concerned with the latest manifestation of both government failure and big-government economics, the so called 'credit crunch' and attempts to reverse it:

And a fourth from the same source might be thought sufficient to send the intelligent reader on his way much better for the experience:

Anti-Dismal has an economics quiz for you -- an economics quiz like no other.

Here are some questions to test your knowledge of the useful history of economic thought. Some of them are only slightly impossible...  Attempt as many questions as possible until you fall asleep, indicating the time and place.

Czech president Vaclav Klaus spoke to a recent climate conference in NY about the threat to freedom from warmist hysteria:

A week ago, I gave a speech at an official gathering at the Prague Castle commemorating the 60th anniversary of the 1948 communist putsch in the former Czechoslovakia. One of the arguments of my speech there, quoted in all the leading newspapers in the country the next morning, went as follows: “Future dangers will not come from the same source. The ideology will be different. Its essence will, nevertheless, be identical – the attractive, pathetic, at first sight noble idea that transcends the individual in the name of the common good, and the enormous self-confidence on the side of its proponents about their right to sacrifice the man and his freedom in order to make this idea reality.” What I had in mind was, of course, environmentalism and its currently strongest version, climate alarmism...

Read his whole speech here:  'From Climate Alarmism to Climate Realism.'

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Who was Ludwig von Mises?  Seeing his name appears around here regularly, a few of you have written me asking.

Since I always like to answer intelligent questions if I can and this is certainly a question worth answering, here's a 30-minute video introducing the man, his career and his thinking to a 197os audience.  (You might note that not all of the Misesians interviewed are always as rational as the man they describe.)

Hear about his many battles with Communists and Nazis and other socialists, and all his numerous victories -- how he saved Austria from a Bolshevik revolution and from the ruinous inflation that decimated Weimar Gemany; how he showed in 1920 that socialism had to fail, in 1912 that central banking causes recessions and depressions; and across the course of his whole life that only laissez-faire capitalism is fully compatible with Western civilization.  Video is by MisesMedia.

For those who want more, there's always Mises' own 1969 essay on ''The Historical Setting of the Austrian School of Economics',' which is as it happens my homework for this week for George Reisman's economics course.

'Oh, and since it's topical, here's a link to the free download of Ludwig von Mises' monograph on 'Bureaucracy,' published the day after FA Hayek's 'Road to Serfdom.'  Send a copy of both to John Key.  And maybe another to Russell Brown.

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Any number of economists have been arguing recently that while no-tax is better than some-tax,  a "revenue neutral" carbon tax is however still better than the bureaucratic "cap and trade" regulatory mess most governments would rather introduce instead.  (There's even one or two who suggest a rather special kind of carbon tax be introduced).

One recent argument for a "revenue neutral" carbon tax was put forward by John Humphreys of Australia's Center for Independent Studies (CIS), before being comprehensively dismantled by fellow Australian Gerard Jackson.  Humphreys argues a Carbon Tax would be less harmful to the country than Emissions Trading -- that it would be “more efficient, effective, simple, flexible and transparent.”  Rubbish, says Jackson.  Any carbon tax or carbon regulation would mean lower productive capacity. "A carbon tax," he says, "is a direct tax on capital and hence Australia’s capital structure and the process of capital accumulation..."

Prodos has a summary (with links) of both positions, and Humphreys engages with Prodos in the comments.

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dj-gif A friend has been telling me all about a friend of his friend -- three degrees of separation, you see, and of deniability -- a mad Frenchman who heads out with a video camera and a few props and ... well, have a look at his video page and see

He speaks comedy, the international language, and since there's no language barrier when you're holding your sides laughing you'll have problem keeping up.

Here's three opportunities for someone switched on to get even more switched on ...

  • The Montana-based PERC, who over the years have produced truckloads of good sense on property rights and environmental issues, are holding a camp for 'Enviropreneurs' "a unique two-week experience in Bozeman, Montana, that will equip conservation leaders with the necessary tools of contracts, communication, property and economic analysis..."  Send the details today to someone you know who would benefit, and point out that "participants receive a US$3000 stipend plus room and board."
  • The Ayn Rand Institute is on the lookout for interns for its California office "to spend the {Northern] summer in sunny California, working and studying with professional Objectivist intellectuals."  Details here -- but be quick, applications for this year close today.
  • And details here of Objectivist Conference 2008 (OCON 2008) in Newport Beach, California, in July, for which scholarship opportunities are still available.

I'm afraid you've already missed the The Mises Institute's Austrian Scholars Conference for this year -- which closes today, and also came with scholarship offers -- but it's never to late to start planning for next year or to think about some of their other scholarship options ...

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Okay, we've all had a go at the list of seven new sins issued by the Pope's left-hand man this week -- but no one's really had a go at the Pope and his left-hand man until Frank Furedi and Lindsay Perigo get going and get wound up.  Have a dekko at:

mamet_19732t Playwright David Mamet (right) has long been one of my own favourites -- despite the sometimes teeth-grating anti-capitalism with which they're imbued his plays and films and commentary are still some of the sharpest around,which is really the crucial criterion when it comes to choosing films and theatre -- but the man who's for so long been the liberals' darling has recently had the scales fall from his eyes.

I recognized that I held ... two views of America (politics, government, corporations, the military). One was of a state where everything was magically wrong and must be immediately corrected at any cost; and the other—the world in which I actually functioned day to day—was made up of people, most of whom were reasonably trying to maximize their comfort by getting along with each other (in the workplace, the marketplace, the jury room, on the freeway, even at the school-board meeting).

And I realized that the time had come for me to avow my participation in that America in which I chose to live, and that that country was not a schoolroom teaching values, but a marketplace.

"Aha," you will say, and you are right. I began reading not only the economics of Thomas Sowell (our greatest contemporary philosopher) but Milton Friedman, Paul Johnson, and Shelby Steele, and a host of conservative writers, and found that I agreed with them: a free-market understanding of the world meshes more perfectly with my experience than that idealistic vision I called liberalism...

The liberal reaction has not been kind.  Just witness the comments to his Village Voice piece in which he explains Why I Am No Longer a Brain-Dead Liberal. [Hat tip Tim Blair]

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The Economist magazine looks at the history of the idea of the 'rule of law' -- it's less common than you might have thought -- and Stephen Franks draws a New Zealand connection...

I got pointed to World Climate Report from Denis Dutton's Climate Debate Daily, where three recent articles caught my eye:

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It's been nearly twenty years since scientists started pulling on politicians' coats about global warming (or was it politicians who started pulling on scientists' coats?) and twenty years since the world's politicians set up the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- known to headline writers as the IPCC.  Sterling Burnett at the Washington Times summarises twenty years of IPCC science -- what have they got right? how much have they got wrong? why so?  See: Climate Panel in the Hot Seat.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

A memo on manners ...

From the "insufferably smug" file comes this bleat from Russell Brown on what he calls "John Key's promise to hold public service staff numbers":

On one hand, I suspect Key is right, and that there are indeed instances of bloat, empty strategising and Wellington log-rolling to be found. On the other, National's use of the perjorative epithet "bureaucrat" for anyone who's not a nurse, teacher or cop is fatuous and offensive.

Fatuous!  And offensive!!  Just imagine.  Crikey, it was only a short while ago -- 1993, in fact -- that my dictionary defined bureaucrat as " a government official." And just fifteen years later the online community's leading Labour apologist is telling us the word is offensive.

This is real progress, people.  But there's still more from His Insufferable Smugness as he continues to whimper on behalf of the cardigan wearers ... 

Key seemed to be trying to use the b-word in every sentence when he talked to Havoc yesterday.

Well, it was bFM, Russell.  

As Victoria University's Bill Ryan pointed out in an interesting interview on bFM later in the day, Key also referred to 'navel-gazers' and 'paper-shufflers'.

Oh, the horror!

Like Ryan, I'm not averse to scrutiny, especially of favoured ministries. I'd just prefer it to be conducted in grown-up language.

"Grown-up language."  This plea for civility appears just a paragraph or two above a description of an online exchange as "a classic episode of pants-pooing and toy-throwing."  Grown up for sure.  Anyway, what's wrong with colourful language, for goodness sake? With calling a spade a spade?  Or with those who spend what's laughably called their working hours collecting navel lint and shuffling paper being called 'navel-gazers' and 'paper-shufflers'?

And why the hell should we respect bloody bureaucrats -- the bane of every productive person's life.  As my favourite author observes,

A businessman's success depends on his intelligence, his knowledge, his productive ability, his economic judgment—and on the voluntary agreement of all those he deals with: his customers, his suppliers, his employees, his creditors or investors.

And what does a bureaucrat's success depend on?  His political pull.

A businessman cannot force you to buy his product; if he makes a mistake, he suffers the consequences; if he fails, he takes the loss. A bureaucrat forces you to obey his decisions, whether you agree with him or not—and the more advanced the stage of a country's statism, the wider and more discretionary the powers wielded by a bureaucrat. If he makes a mistake, you suffer the consequences; if he fails, he passes the loss on to you, in the form of heavier taxes.

Bureaucrats.  Screw 'em -- and all the supporters who ride in on 'em.

PS: Here's another state-worshipper in an illiterate umbrage fit.  Funny how such a mild-mannered proposal is flushing 'em out...

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Beer O’Clock – From the Archives

This afternoon's Beer O'Clock come comes from Neil at Real Beer ...

Today’s column celebrates the return of my good friend Shong Mau from Merry Old England. He has bucked the trend and moved to New Zealand from a high wage economy. Of course, he is not the only person to have done this. There have been three recorded instances in the last year alone.

While my Realbeer colleague Stu is promising a year’s worth of informative and educational columns on classic beer styles, the reappearance of Shong got me thinking about a pile of beer tastings he and I undertook years ago. I faithfully took notes on what we said about each beer and… well, they have been in an orange folder ever since. Ironically, the folder is clearly labelled “Reviews to write up.”

So, better late than never, this column is a dip into the Archives (the legendary 'M-Files' which include the full dossier on the global cover-up of that ferry which ran aground in the Cook Strait, and that secret tape of Lindsay Perigo chatting up Margaret Thatcher). It also contains never-seen-before reviews of beers which may or may not still be available.

 Sadly still available, Kronenbourg 1664 (5%, France) is recorded as being “surrender monkey yellow” in colour. The beer was described as “thin, insubstantial, looking like it would give up easily.” Annoyingly, the nose was reasonable but the actual taste made it “feel like you have already been drinking for hours.” It was stale, sticky and vaguely unpleasant with only a hint of bitterness. The embossed bottle was nice, the contents less so. In this case, I would have to agree with the striking brewery workers who tipped thousands of litres of the stuff down the drain. Shong said it was “not good” and this was reflected in the average mark of 4 out of 10.

Rooster’s Haymaker, (6.5%, Hastings) was described as tasting much better than it looked. It was frisky, malty with a pleasantly long finish. One taster picked up a dried apricot flavour in the background. Shong said it was “easy to drink.” It received an average mark of 5.66.

Another French offering, Fischer (6%, France) pictured right, proved very popular however. It had a light and fluffy head and sweet malty nose with a hint of wood smoke. Proclaimed as “being so good it could be German” it was quickly noted that “it was for a while there.” Fischer showcased a certain fruitiness and bitterness as well as a mellow finish. Shong said it was “good.” The beer scored 7.5.

We have all missed Shong’s beer wisdom and palate.

Cheers, Neil

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Too popular for NZ

Funky furniture giant Ikea has been barred from opening its first New Zealand store by the Environment Court because "its stores are so popular."

Such is the upside-down world of the Resource Management Act.

The nearest Ikea store will remain for the time being in Sydney -- unless of course they become less popular in the meantime.  Story here.  [Hat tip Elliot Who?]

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They're not drinking our beer here

230px-Taedonggangbeer The country is so poor it's people are boiling up grass to make soup, but according to this report from Reuters [hat tip Stash], North Korea is apparently now producing a quality beer from equipment snaffled from England.

Problem is, it's becoming too expensive for South Koreans to enjoy ("they used the best quality material without thinking of the production cost," says a South Korean distributor who no longer stocks North Korea's Taedonggang beer since it jumped 70% in price without warning) and most North Koreans don't drink beer.  Says Jon Herskovitz at Reuters, they prefer "cheaper rice-based liquor that packs a big punch."

"They need to be able to drink more at the same price," said Choi Soo-young, an expert on the North at the South's Korea Institute for National Unification.

Choi said the brewery is a favourite project of the ruling communist party, whose members can afford beer and will make sure the factory receives all the ingredients it needs even though the North cannot produce enough food to feeds it 22 million people.

And despite being desperate for foreign currency, it's reportedly unlikely Taedonggang beer will ever replace North Korea's export of nuclear fearmongering as its main export. 

The brewery has occasional trouble sealing bottles properly ... the glass it uses is fragile ... [and distributors have] had to print labels in the South and send bottles from China in order to package the beer for export.

Ranked by RateBeer as decidely average, Taedonggang is described as "a full-bodied lager a little on the sweet side, with a slightly bitter aftertaste."

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Stronger, more harmful drugs unleashed by MPs

400,000 consumers of party pills have now been told by 109 MPs that they may no longer legally purchase or consume party pills, and Matt Bowden of the Social Tonics Association is clear what the result of prohibition will be.  "400,000 people have been sent into the arms of the gangs," he told Mike Hosking this morning.

In their eight years on the market there have been neither deaths nor serious injuries due to party pills, but the ban now means those looking for a safer alternative to alcohol or tobacco will have to look elsewhere, and criminals looking for new markets to tap have just been handed a new one on a plate.  As Green MP Metiria Turei said, ""He (Mr) Anderton put our young people at risk to meet his own political objectives."

Because when criminals sell drugs, the safety of their buyers is far from a priority -- politicians who have just voted to make gangsters rich would do well to brush up on Milton Friedman's 'Iron Law of Prohibition' so they may fully understand the disaster they've just unleashed on New Zealanders.  Says Friedman:

"Prohibition encourages dealers to produce and provide the stronger, more harmful product. If you are a drug dealer in Hackney, you can use the kilo of cocaine you own to sell to casual coke users who will snort it and come back a month later – or you can microwave it into crack, which is far more addictive, and you will have your customer coming back for more in a few hours. Prohibition encourages you to produce and provide the more harmful drug."

Look for up to 400,000 people (many of whom had been weaned of harder drugs by the legal high of party pills)  to now be wooed by suppliers of stronger, more harmful products in streets near you soon.

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'Winter scene in Hamamatsu' -Hiroshige

     30_Hamamatsu

Another deceptively simple scene from Hiroshige's 'Tokaido' series featured here this week.  You see, this is one reason I like Hiroshige's work.: He doesn't do what to us would seem the obvious thing with his scenes.

In this print he depicts our travellers in Hamamatsu. Hamamatsu's most famous attribute was its castle, and any contemporary viewer of this work would expect to see it featured prominently; the castle is shown, but hardly in the foreground: the foreground instead shows our travellers warming themselves by a bonfire in the shelter of a large tree, and through several unusual compositional devices -- some of which, such as cutting the page in half with a tree trunk and leaving empty space at the corners, violate all the canons of traditional western art -- our eye is led out from the travellers to the background in which the castle is seen.  The lower sheltering bank unifies the composition, and its curve comes out to embrace the scene and the travellers.

The view seen here reflects several similar 'Shakkei' techniques used to link Japanese houses and gardens to wider views beyond -- 'capturing the view alive'  is the aim -- one of which is to 'capture with tree trunks,' and another to capture with elements linking foreground and background.

Open the drawing up to its largest size letting your eye roam around the page taking it all in, and then let yourself become aware of where and how Hiroshige makes your eye dance around the page.  It's quite delightful how he does it...

PS: Here's a page of gorgeous Hiroshige prints that you can download and view as large files.  Head over and browse for a while.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Celebrity debate

proudhon-bastiat-oddcouple Pierre Proudhon is famous for his aphorism "Property is theft."  Frédéric Bastiat is revered for observations such as this one, that "life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place."

The alert reader will have spotted that both these gentlemen were French, and their positions appear profoundly opposed.  What you might not have known, and I certainly didn't until a French friend pointed it out, is that both men engaged in a spirited debate in from 1848 to 1850 that appeared in Proudhon's journal that up to now have only been available in French, and without Bastiat's final reply that Proudhon refused to publish.  Up to now.

As the Mises Blog points out however, you can now enjoy the Proudhon-Bastiat debates in English, in full, which includes the concluding letter from Bastiat summarising his final position.  As co-translator Roderick Long notes,

The exchanges aren’t always ... polite ... ; in fact the two writers grow increasingly frustrated with each other over the course of the debate, until Proudhon ends by denouncing Bastiat as “a man whose intellect is hermetically sealed, and to whom logic is as nought,” and declaring him intellectually “a dead man.” Bastiat retorts that Proudhon “has ended where one ends when one is in the wrong; he is in a rage.” (We should probably bear in mind that at the time of this debate Bastiat was in the final stages of terminal illness [incidentally lending Proudhon’s metaphorical death sentence upon him an uncomfortable flavour – a celebrity death match indeed!], while Proudhon had recently begun serving a three-year prison sentence for criticising the President; so neither can have been in the best of moods. In any case, Alain Laurent has suggested that the influence of Bastiat’s arguments in the debate may have played a role in the increasingly liberal cast of Proudhon’s later thought.)

Wealth or control: which do entrepreneurs want most?

As shareholders in Auckland International Airport ponder whether or not to sell their shares to Canada Pensions, and Canada Pensions meanwhile pledges if successful to retain an ownership stake up to forty percent but to sell down its voting rights to 24.9% -- and ministers David Parker and Clayton Cosgrove ponder whether or not to make these voluntary decisions moot by dropping the hammer on shareholders and buyers alike --  it's worth taking the opportunity ourselves to ponder the difference that entrepreneurs see between ownership and control. As Stephen Hicks summarises:

What do entrepreneurs want most: wealth or control? Professor Noam Wasserman, of the Entrepreneurial Management unit at Harvard Business School, looks at some of the difficult choices entrepreneurs make.

Read Wasserman's paper here.

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NZ troops are propping up a theocracy

Every free country has the right to liberate a slave pen (allow me to remind careful readers of the difference between a right and a duty).  It has the right to hunt down those who have committed or intend to commit violence against its citizens.  These two principles -- the recognition of individual rights and of the right to self-defence -- were the twin justifications for the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, an invasion and occupation supported by New Zealand troops, and it's clear enough from the fairly widespread support for the Afghanistan campaign that these two principles are at least dimly understood by everyone who possesses a greater grasp of world affairs than Keith Locke.

So why then are New Zealand troops in Afghanistan propping up a regime that is about to execute a young man for the crime of ... wait for it ... blasphemy?  That's right, blasphemy.  For the 'crime' of questioning the treatment of women in the Koran (something everyone who possesses a moral standing greater than Eliot Spitzer should undertake occasionally) Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh has been condemned to death by an Afghani court.

It wasn't supposed to be like this, was it?  As Idiot Savant says [hat tip Liberty Scott] "We wouldn't support Iran's rabid theocracy with troops; why are we supporting Afghanistan's?" An excellent question asked even by Peter Dunne.  I'm not sure either of them will like the answer spelled out, however.

The answer, as Yaron Brook and Elan Journo have argued in some detail, is that the twin campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq were not genuinely based on the principles of self-defence and individual rights.  While they began with the righteous indignation symbolised in the name chosen for the military campaign against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan: Operation Infinite Justice, Brook points out that "this reaction was evanescent," and as the name of the operation changed the campaign for self-defence eventually became something else quite different: a promise of "self-determination" for those liberated in the invasions and a promise to spread "democracy" to those with little or no understanding of the concept of freedom.  Since democracy is a counting of heads regardless of content, the result of spreading democracy to those whose heads are full of theocratic mush should have been obvious.

Whatever they chose, whomever they elected, Washington and its allies -- us included -- promised to endorse. The decision was entirely theirs.

If self-defense were part of the goal ... then one would logically expect that, for the sake of protecting American [and New Zealand] lives, Washington [on behalf of its allies] would at least insist on ensuring that the new regimes be non-threatening, so that we do not have to face a resurgent threat [or support a theocracy]. But Bush proclaimed all along that America would never determine the precise character of Iraq’s (or Afghanistan’s) new regime. The Iraqis [and Afghanis] were left to contrive their own constitution...

When asked [for example] whether the United States would acquiesce to an Iranian-style militant regime ..., Bush said yes. Why ...? Because, Bush explained, “democracy is democracy. . . . If that’s what the people choose, that’s what the people choose.”

What the majority of Afghanis chose for their country, as history now shows and Brook makes clear, was a theocracy that allows "legions of undefeated Taliban and Al Qaeda warriors to regroup and renew their jihad," and that murders its citizens for questioning a holy book that rates women below goats.

This is not what New Zealand troops should have been fighting for, and if that's all they're now there for then it's time that they weren't.

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Something in the English beer?

Something must be in the beer in England. Notes Fleshbot (sometimes NSFW):

In the last few months, men in England have been arrested for attempting to have sex with a bicycle, a fence, a vacuum cleaner and now ... a lamp post. We don't know what's going on over there, but maybe a certain governor could recommend some alternative forms of entertainment for these fellows?

Perhaps if any travelling English cricket supporters could tear themselves away for a moment from rending their garments and checking out the household appliances, they could let us know what's going on here?  Cheers.

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Cue Card Libertarianism: Tariffs

TARIFFS are taxes on imports. Simple as that -- which means a tax on both consumers and producers. In application they are a protection racket whereby local inefficient industries are feather-bedded, the consumer is fleeced, the producers of this country and developing nations are penalised, and government's coffers are topped up. Robbery by tariff used to be called by a more honest name, highway robbery, and was extracted by thieves from passersby -- nowadays the robbery is institutionalised and is carried out in the customs house -- the result is the same: a penalty to everybody seeking to live by trade, which is all of us.

In New Zealand, robbery by tariff has traditionally been enforced by vote-grubbing politicians (are there any other kind?) on behalf of flabby businesses, monopolistic unions and noisy lobbyists. Though tariffs have been steadily reduced as part of the now-retarded economic reform process -- to the enormous benefit of the Joe and Josephine Consumer who are now able to fill their lounge, kitchen and bedrooms with inexpensive, modern goods -- and even the Clark Government has continued to reduce them, many still remain, and strong rearguard actions continue to be mounted to retain them, especially in the areas of clothing, footwear and carpets.

Tariffs vastly inflate the prices of all goods on the local market, in the hope that consumers will buy the local (uncompetitive) product instead of the imported (competitive) article, and 'therefore' keep people in jobs. This is palpable nonsense. As Frederic Bastiat points out to a putative protectionist on behalf of consumers everywhere (and I paraphrase slightly to make the point more local):

Since a great number of your fellow legislators each picks my pocket for a dollar or two -- one under the pretext of protecting shoe manufacturers; another one farmers; this one clothing; that one garden furniture -- I find when everything is taken into account that of the large part of my wage packet left after your initial plunder (income tax) and your secondary plunder (GST) and then again your tertiary plunder (various duties on fuel, tobacco and alcohol and the like) that I have been able to save less than half of my packet from being plundered before you attempt to pick my pocket yet again. You will doubtless tell me that the few dollars which pass in this latest way, without compensation, from my pocket to yours provide a livelihood for the constituents around you and enables your chosen manufacturers to live in great style. May I point out to you in reply that if you left the money in my hands it would have provided a livelihood for the people around me.

Legislators and protectionists are adept at ignoring the unseen consequences of their plunder. In the case of tariffs they ignore the stimulus to both saving and spending that tariff removal and consequent reduced prices brings about; they ignore the genuine employment-generating effects thereof -- employment in genuinely profitable businesses rather than those that are feather-bedded; they ignore the beneficial effect to every New Zealand consumer of the availability of inexpensive imports - which is after all what we send exports overseas for; they ignore the beneficial effect to every New Zealand producer of cheaper inputs into his own production -- and it is ironically local producers who tariffs are supposed to support; and they ignore the fact that tariffs, like all taxes, are a violation of rights, an unwarranted intrusion by the state into free, voluntary transactions among consenting adults: if I export a product to you in another country at a price mutually agreed to, what right does government in either country have forcibly to alter that price?

Perhaps one of the greatest ironies is that the United States of America, founded with the foreign policy articulated by Thomas Jefferson as "Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations – entangling alliances with none," is now among the most protectionist on the planet, and regular "trade wars" with the likes of the European Union are threatened and undertaken by means of tariffs slapped on one or other import from one of other "enemy." Producers and consumers everywhere suffer by the artificial hurdles placed in the way of peace, commerce and honest friendship. While China is turning itself into the factory of the world, for example, and many people of developing nations are seeking to emulate their example and drag themselves out of poverty the same way, the customs houses of the rest of world are clipping everyone's ticket, and robbing both consumers and producers of the full extent of this boon.

(It will be noted to that what passes for "free trade deals" these days, such as the North America's NAFTA deal agreed to under Bill Clinton's administration and New Zealand's recent free trade deal with China, all have something in common that genuine free trade deals don't. Genuine free trade involves a willing buyer, a willing seller and sometimes a bit of paper registering the nature of our agreement. "Free trade agreements" these days however require extensive negotiation and renegotiation between trade ministers and protectionists, trade ministers and trade ministers, and volumes and volumes of literature determining the levels of tariff, duties and subsidies agreed to be extracted by the government's of the trading partners. This is "free trade" only to the extent that these various forms of plunder begin to approach zero. )

New Zealand's recent revolving door of Commerce Ministers have, it is true, been progressively reducing New Zealand's tariffs, but despite promises from Minister Dalziel five years ago and continued pressure from the Importers Institute, many still remain.

In the 1994 Bogor "Declaration of Common Resolve," APEC governments agreed to achieve the goal of completely free and open trade and investment in the Pacific region no later than 2010 for the industrialised economies. No such luck. As a perusal of all ninety-nine chapters of Her Majesty’s New Zealand Customs ''Working Tariff Document of New Zealand' indicates, in 2008 many tariffs remain, none with any rational justification, all of them making a nonsense of the spirit if not the letter of many so called “free trade deals” struck over recent years (and 'Buy NZ' campaigners are beginning to clear their throats and practice their protectionist choruses). Importing garden umbrellas and the like for example will see customs plundering 7.5% of the value they care to place on the goods; kerosene and white spirits 7%; adults' shoes will be plundered 17.5%, as will imported vehicles; and "Articles of apparel and clothing accessories, not knitted or crocheted" will also see importers' pocket attacked for 17% of the deemed value, shrinking to 10% in 2009 -- with consumers being the ones who end up picking up the tab. Golf carts, petrol and works of art imported into New Zealand however are now tariff-free. For the moment.

This is part of a continuing series explaining the concepts and terms used by New Zealand's libertarians, originally published in The Free Radical in 1993. The 'Introduction' to the series is here. The series so far can be seen here, here, and down on the right-hand sidebar.

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'Shono – Sudden Rain' - Hiroshige

  HPIM0931

Another of Hiroshige's wood block prints from the Tokaido series, this is one of his most well known: station forty-six, 'Shono – Sudden Rain,' published c. 1831-4.  In this depiction, our travellers are caught in a downpour near the town of Shono in Ise Province.  Says author Tomikichiro Tokuriki,

Shono not only ranks with the best prints in this set but is one of the outstanding works in the artist's entire life.  No other print treats the fall of heavy rain so well, or expresses the beauty of that rain.  One almost hears it falling.  Van Gogh also used rain as a subject matter, and it is remembered that he got ideas from the Japanese ukiyo-e print artists.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Bureaucrats: Flip Flop Boy promises "more with the same"

Flip Flop Boy said today a National Government would "put a cap on the number of bureaucrats."

"Core bureaucrat" numbers have grown 37 per cent [since 1999], compared to 10 per cent growth in state sector staff providing frontline services and 22 per cent growth in employment in the economy as a whole, he said.

The Nats fighting bureaucracy?   No, not really.  Yet again, the large print giveth and the small print taketh away.  Showing the clear difference between a politician and a principled politicians he went on to clarify:

It is time to stop the growth in bureaucracy experienced under the Labour Government over the past eight years, because there are already enough bureaucrats to do the job... When it comes to the bureaucracy, it is clear that Labour has spent eight years doing the same with more. It’s high time we started doing more with the same.

Actually, no.  When it comes to bureaucrats and their all-enveloping bureaucracy, it's well past time "we" started expecting -- nay, demanding -- much less with many fewer.

As Ludwig von Mises observed, "Only to bureaucrats can the idea occur that establishing new offices, promulgating new decrees, and increasing the number of government employees alone can be described as positive and beneficial measures." And only a charlatan would see anything less than a total reversal of that process as anything to boast about.

UPDATE:  "Not exactly the razor gang promised by former National leader Don Brash, is it?" says Colin Espiner (correctly).

                 Dry_Wet

"I can see Key’s problem though,"says the sympathetic scribe.  "To announce you’re about to take the knife to the state sector is asking for trouble, since it invites immediate attacks from Labour of the 'slash and burn' variety - you know, National’s 'scorched earth' policies, etc, etc."  And to announce you're not going to take the knife means you invite immediate attacks from those aware the bloated sector is urgently overdue to be punctured, and builds up trouble later when of if such cuts do come because you'll be seen to have been lying.  Again.

Here's how I would slash the bureaucracy while keeping the bureaucrats onside.  On coming to power I'd tell them all that whoever wanted to could take a year's paid holiday.  This would be worth it, since it would stop the bureaucrats whimpering about their jobs while giving them time to get a real one, and everyone and their uncle would immediately see which, if any, bureaucrats were worth keeping when they all returned (if any did) after their year off.  And you can be damn sure it won't be those who are "responsible for developing and implementing frameworks, models, and systems for strategic measurement of progress, determining the best practice benchmarks related to organisational performance, and for developing processes to monitor [departments'] progress towards achieving strategic outcomes.”

How many of Wellington's 36,000 bureaucrats would be missed?

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Innovation fund isn't

A few readers have asked me to comment on the Government's $700 million 'Innovation Fund,'  which its backers say will provide 

A massive funding boost to New Zealand's food industry [which] aims to help sell more of the country's produce overseas.

"Surely even a libertarian can agree with getting our scientists to help our exports" said one of my correspondents. Well no, I don't, not when it's my money - and especially not when it's poured down a hole that commercial backers have so obviously already spurned.

And fortunately, I don't need to write much more than that myself, since Paul Walker has already said all I would want to say, and much more succinctly than I normally manage.

"Government bailout crack"

smoking-crack-cocaine News overnight of another multi-billion dollar stimulus package "injected" into the world's markets -- $200 billion this time created out of thin air by the US Federal Reserve to deliver "a shot in the arm to stressed financial markets" -- demonstrates again that corporate welfare is alive and well and living in capital cities and banking houses all around the world.

When welfare beneficiaries cry that their benefits are too low, right wingers en masse tell them to suck it up.  'Taxpayers can't afford to foot your bills forever,' they say.  'Survival of the fittest,' they say.  But when banks and finance houses start crying in pain, the shout goes out for a bail out, for a 'stimulus package' -- despite such bail outs and every stimulus package being ultimately more destructive in the long run to taxpayers and to the economy than any welfare explosion.  They not only squander taxpayers' hard-earned money by throwing good money after bad, but by further diluting the central banks' paper currency with artificially created credit, it sets up an underlying inflation that is ultimately destructive of all economic value.

Because this is not even real credit that's being poured down the black hole of yet another stimulus package to pay for the failures of investment banks and their so called advisers. Fortune magazine lists the sorry spiral of failure of nearly all the financial industry's leading lights and asks on its cover, "What were they smoking?"  Alex Epstein has the answer: "Government bailout crack." No wonder last night's intervention was so well received; the enthusiastic greeting was of the same quality one hears from users when a new shipment of their chosen stimulant hits their streets and housing projects.

You see, with every new bail out and every new injection of credit, they want more.  When the first bail out fails they not only show no gratitude for the subsidised credit they've already squandered, they want even more of it.  "Bail out!" they cry again and again, demanding more and more created credit after the earlier huge tranches of created credit.  But at some stage, the drug bill will have to be paid by someone -- and that 'someone,' ladies and gentlemen, is you and me.

Because, and this is the most important point here, this is not real capital injected into the markets in an attempt to make up for earlier failure.  This is what George Reisman calls "counterfeit capital."  It's fake prosperity. It's a way of 'putting a penny in the fusebox,' allowing economic activity to recover momentarily from their woes, yet just as putting a penny in your fusebox now only makes the eventual explosion of your whole circuit board more likely, so too does the cheap 'socialised financing' of fake credit risk a more serious meltdown of the world's mixed economies.

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Witchdoctoring up conservatism

William Buckley is still dead, and people are still writing about him - in part to correct the many myths about the man. As Jeffrey Tucker says at the Mises blog, "What I can't stand is the incredible, shocking ignorance of those who claim that free market thought in American began with [Buckley..."

That's true.  Buckley didn't start the 'free market movement' in America or even seriously contribute to it; what he started in America was a movement that fused capitalism and religion, something entirely destructive of freedom's ends.  As has been said here before, that fusion is not merely wrong, it's fatal.  Ayn Rand pointed out Buckley's fatal flaw as a defender of freedom: "because he tells people that the foundation of capitalism is religious faith, [he] implies that reason and science are on the side of the collectivists."  There is no greater point for a defender of capitalism to concede, and Buckley's religio-conservatives handed it to their opponents as a free gift.

A new obituary of Buckley by Harry Binswanger calls him bluntly what he was, a witchdoctor, and quotes a 1960 letter written to presidential candidate Barry Goldwater warning him off Buckley's witchdoctoring:

The attempt to use religion as a moral justification of Conservatism began after World War II. Observe the growing apathy, lifelessness, ineffectuality and general feebleness of the so-called Conservative side, ever since.  You are, at present, a rising exception in the Republican ranks... That is why I want to warn you against them now, and help you to identify the nature of their influence.

Of Buckley's magazine National Review, Binswanger reminds us that in her Playboy interview of 1964 she called it

"the worst and most dangerous magazine in America" because of its crusade to tie capitalism to religion.

In her letter to Goldwater she explained

I am profoundly opposed to it--not because it is a religious magazine, but because it pretends that it is not. There are religious magazines which one can respect, even while disagreeing with their views. But the fact that the National Review poses as a secular political magazine, while following a strictly religious "party line," can have but one purpose: to slip religious goals by stealth on those who would not accept them openly...

This, she became convinced, was Buckley's mission, something all too clear from his ever-present willingness to sell out capitalism (two such incidents are described by Binswanger) but never religion.  The way the communists took over the liberals in the nineteen-thirties was, she told Goldwater, "what [Buckley's] professional religionists are now attempting to do to the Conservatives."

Their success can be measured in every Republican primary.  Concludes Binswanger, with my hearty endorsement:

Buckley, more than anyone else, is responsible for subverting the "conservative movement," turning it into its current, depraved status as the anti-reason, anti-man, welfare-statist "religious right." The world is well rid of him.

** Read Binswanger's complete piece here: William F. Buckley, Jr.: The Witch-Doctor is Dead.

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"A peaceful transfer of power"

I enjoyed this comment on democracy by Ludwig von Mises from his autobiographical 'Notes & Reflections':
Technical proposals for changes in the election system ... would be no solution. If the masses of people oppose an administration that was formed by a minority, it cannot indefinitely survive. If it refuses to yield to public opinion, it will be overthrown by revolution. The preferability of democracy consists in the fact that it facilitates a peaceful [transfer of power].
This doesn't contradict what I've said before about democracy: that democracy is no guarantee of freedom; that a majority can just as easily to vote away its own freedoms and those of minorities as it will to have them protected; that unless some things are put beyond the vote, then democracy is little more than sophisticated mob rule ... but it does help to explain why genuine democracies generally have fewer armed mobs in the streets trying to lynch their head of state.

As I recall, even Muldoon when Prime Minister once explained he was opposed to introducing a four-year term for government here because without the constitutional protection of other countries, New Zealand's three-year term at least allowed NZers to throw the bastards out when they'd had enough of them.

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2007 "a bad year for warmists" (updated)

Steven Milloy sums up 2007 for warmists -- that is, for those who insist on the myth of man-made warming. 

“I’ve made up my mind. Don’t confuse me with the facts.” That saying most appropriately sums up [2007] in climate science for the fanatic global warming crowd.

His Top 10 Climate Myth-Busters for 2007 include:

  • Cracked Crystal Balls - observed temperature changes measured over the last 30 years "don’t match well" with temperatures predicted by climate models...
  • Pre-SUV warming - A more reliable study confirms globally averaged temperature 1,000 years ago was about 0.3 degrees Celsius warmer than today; this was before we started building factories and power plants, and started driving the kids to school in 4 -wheel drives...
  • A disciplined climate - the warmist fantasy of "runaway global warming" is confirmed to be just that: a fantasy...
  • Lazy temperature? - man-made global warming theory requires CO2 to precede warming, yet despite increases in the rate of emission of manmade carbon dioxide "ever-changing global temperatures are in no way keeping pace with ever-increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels."  In other words, temperatures and CO2 emissions don't match...
  • Don’t plant that tree! - trees aren't all good. Trees below 20 degrees latitude in the northern hemisphere "exert a cooling influence on global climate," but trees above that line don't. They're warmers.  That is, "forests north of the line of latitude running through Southern Mexico, Saharan Africa, central India and the southernmost Chinese Island of Hainan -- will warm surface temperatures in those regions by an estimated 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100."
  • Much ado about nothing - a report to Congress by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates the difference for average global temperature ninety years from now between "a scenario where no action is taken to reduce manmade emissions and a scenario where maximum regulation is implemented" would be ... wait for it ... just 0.17 degrees Centigrade.  "For reference purposes, the estimated total increase in average global temperature for the 20th century was about 0.50 degrees Celsius."

All this, as Milloy reminds us, on top of

the spanking a British high court judge gave Al Gore’s movie for all its scientific inaccuracies and the thrashing non-alarmist climate scientists gave to alarmist climate scientists in a debate sponsored by the New York debating society Intelligence Squared.

Al Gore and the alarmist mob claim the debate about the science of global warming is “over.” Given the developments of 2007, it’s easy to see why they would want it that way.

Head here to see the whole list, and the links for all the research mentioned.

UPDATE: Andrew Bolt adds another point to the list:

Isn't it time we realised ... that China is now big enough to decide the future of the planet on its own...?  Folks, get over this white man's burden thing. China is now in charge. It will set the world's temperature...  nothing we do in little Australia, responsible for just 1.5 per cent of the world's emissions and falling fast, is remotely likely to affect the planet's temperature, which in any case still hasn't risen above the record set 10 years ago...

In fact, China is now the world's biggest emitter and by 2020, [warmists estimate], it and other developing countries will pump out more greenhouse gases on their own than the entire world dare emit if we want to stop what Garnaut assumes will be potentially catastrophic warming.

We can fiddle, but what's the point when China will burn, burn, burn?

UPDATE 2:  Oops!  I've fixed my incorrect transcription in the 'Don’t plant that tree!' section.

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'Numazu Bridge in the Snow' - Hiroshige

                                 HPIM1117

Another print from Hiroshige's 'Tokaido' series -- this one from the 'upright Tokaido' series published in 1855, showing our travellers crossing the snow-covered bridge at Numazu.  The composition is simple -- almost stark -- but not static, with a winding path through the dominating landscape inviting our movement through it.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Watch out for the green bubble bath (updated)

MoneyBomb In the seventeenth century it was the tulip bulb mania.  In the eighteenth it was the South Seas Bubble.  In the nineteen-twenties it was a stock market boom and a bubble in Florida swamp land; in the eighties a boom in sales of white shoes, gold chains and shoulder pads; and in the late nineties a "dot-com boom" in which even the most be-pimpled jandal-wearing geek was able to float an IPO to buyers eager to 'invest' their piles of borrowed government-created credit in schemes ranging from bizarre to unlikely.   All of these various bubbles imploded leaving investors taking a bath and creditors awash in un-backed IOUs -- which largely describes the government-created credit most 'investors' were using to seek their fortunes. 

The lesson is obvious enough: Boom leads to bust.  Today's rocket-fuelled "irrational exuberance" is tomorrow's rational reflection that every time the currency is inflated in the way central bankers periodically like to do, prices tend to inflate like the Hindenburg did just before the airship fell to earth in a shower of sparks.

Any time borrowers are flush with excess credit you see a boom in whatever borrowers like to decide is fashionable, and rampant inflation in prices in markets conveniently not measured in the central bankers' inflation-measuring baskets.  The most recent boom in property prices is just one bubble in which some investors are already taking a sub-prime bath.  Here's another to keep an eye on: Alternative energy

Notes Harper's magazine in support of this thesis, the alternative energy bubble has the legs to go all the way, just like the Hindenburg did: it's fashionable; it's driven by legislation and subsidy; and already companies like First Solar (who on the back of an 800% rise in share price were declared Wall Street Journal's "best 1-year performer" ) have become the darlings of Wall Street, despite a grand total of 12 clients, factories producing to capacity and what one analyst calls "an enormous multiplier." (Says Zachary Scheidt of Stearman Capital, "The deck seems stacked against shareholders at this time, not due to the inadequacy of management or the strength of the company, but simply due to the unbridled enthusiasm of investors.")  How bad will this bubble be?  Harper's estimates

the gross market value of all enterprises needed to develop hydroelectric power, geothermal energy, nuclear energy, wind farms, solar power, and hydrogen-powered fuel-cell technology—and the infrastructure to support it—is somewhere between $2 trillion and $4 trillion; assuming the bubble can get started, the hyperinflated fictitious value could add another $12 trillion. In a hyperinflation, infrastructure upgrades will accelerate, with plenty of opportunity for big government contractors fleeing the declining market in Iraq. Thus, we can expect to see the creation of another $8 trillion in fictitious value, which gives us an estimate of $20 trillion in speculative wealth, money that inevitably will be employed to increase share prices rather than to deliver “energy security.” When the bubble finally bursts, we will be left to mop up after yet another devastated industry.

Let us remind ourselves that this and every other bubble was created by debasing the currency -- a "seeming golden age — in reality, a thinly gilded one — during which the first, most favored issuers of cheap credit and artificially boosted equity prices enjoyed almost effortless success, but whose successes must eventually be paid in the destruction of real capital.   As Sean Corrigan notes, real, physical capital was never called into being quite so readily as the artificial credit created out of thin air by central banks, since the creation of real, physical capital "requires not the staccato keystroke of a fiat banker, but entrepreneurial vision, hard work, and genuine saving."

By that last we mean a voluntary abstention from current consumption, undertaken in order to improve the chance of greater plenty in the future, and not the corrupt preemption of a man's spending power — effected with monetary trickery — which inflationists laud as "forced saving." Being a species of initially unrecognized compulsion, this is a deceit doomed to fatal self-contradiction once its dupes wake up to the nature of the con being practiced upon them.

PS: Here's Czech president talking to Glen Beck about how freedom is more important than warmism and subsidised climate nonsense.

UPDATE: A reader has drawn my attention to the fact that while the Harper's article makes good sense on the possible energy boom-and-bust, it peddles pure Keynesian bullshit in earlier parts of the piece.  See here for example.  Readers are warned to skip the earlier paragraphs head straight to the sections on alternative energy, and discard the rest as arrant nonsense.

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Writing about writing

tom_4b Writer Thomas Sowell (right), author of more than thirty best-selling books and one of my very favourite quotes*, writes about writing.  It's fascinating.

From time to time, I get a letter from some aspiring young writer, asking about how to write or how to get published. My usual response is that the only way I know to become a good writer is to be a bad writer and keep on improving. However, even after you reach the point where you are writing well—and that can take many years—the battle is not over. There are still publishers to contend with. Then there are editors and, worst of all, copy-editors.

Copy-editors: those chaps who site between a writer and a reader with a blue pencil, a tin ear and a taste for "pedestrian uniformity...  Self-justifying rules and job-justifying busy work are the only visible goals of copy-editors."

Where Shakespeare wrote, “To be or not to be, that is the question,” a copy-editor would substitute: “The issue is one of existence versus non-existence.” Where Lincoln said, “Fourscore and seven years ago,” a copy-editor would change that to: “It has been 87 years since . . .” Where the Bible said, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” a copy-editor would run a blue pencil through the first three words as redundant.

Read the whole thing here [hat tip Gus Van Horn].  It's long, but delightful.
                                                              * * * * *
* NB: Favourite quote follows:

Cultures are not museum pieces. They are the working machinery of everyday life. Unlike objects of aesthetic contemplation, working machinery is judged by how well it works, compared to the alternatives.

UPDATE:  Here's some recent Sowell columns you might like to browse.

Michael Choy, R.I.P.

Comment of the day goes to Liberty Scott.  According to the Parole Board, the country's youngest killer, Bailey Junior Kurariki -- the murderer in cold blood of Michael Choy -- "is an articulate, intelligent young man, who appears genuine in his desire to live an offence-free life."

"Bit late isn't it," says Scott.

inFamous Five go to Milan

51MBBFRH4KL._SS500_ The taxpayer is picking up the tab for departing MPs Marian Hobbs, Margaret Wilson, Brian Connell, Katherine Rich and Peter Brown to fly to Europe first class to ... well, no one's quite sure what these not so Famous Five are flying there to do.  "I don't know too much about the purpose," says Marian. "I think it's about MMP. I'm not sure."  Ah, sweet Marian.  All too aware she's getting a payoff for services rendered before she enters the well-deserved oblivion that retirement from parliament will bring her and her fellow five.

Instead of decrying this trip however -- one that takes in the sights of Milan, Krakau, Prague and Budapest -- I'm going to support it.  It would be a very small price to pay if more MPs would indulge in junkets like this instead of spending time around parliament dreaming up new means by which to get in our way and piss us off.  If the other one-hundred and sixteen MPs would like to join the inFamous Five, it would be money well spent.

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New 'sins' for a new century (update 2)

rosary1 The Vatican has outlined "seven new deadly sins for our times." (Story here at The Times.) Where the earlier sins drawn up by Pope Gregory all of fourteen centuries ago dealt with sins supposedly against God -- things full of life-enhancing individualist exuberance like lust, gluttony and pride -- these new "sins for the twenty-first century" are designed, so the Vatican says, "to make worshippers consider the increased impact their lives have on other people in light of globalisation."

In other words, this is the socialisation of sin. Where the church once wanted you to feel bad about enjoying yourself because their God might not like it, now the church wants you to feel bad about enjoying yourself because you neighbour might not. As a colleague comments, "I love the Socialist idea that individual sins are not as important as social sins!" And I love the idea that your neighbour is more important than the Pope's imaginary friend. At least that much is true. When your neighbour twitches the curtains they do it so you notice, but no one yet has ever got a call from God asking us to turn our stereo down.

So let's look at these new sins for the twenty-first century. Where once the sin of envy might have got you boiled in oil, now the sin of 'environmental damage' will see you boiling Gaia. Allegedly. For this alleged offence, the catholic church prescribes a large indulgence paid to the catholic church. Naturally. They saw Al Gore had a good deal going, selling indulgences for the mortal sin of exhaling carbon, and they thought they ought to get in on it. And since they invented the whole 'making money off of guilt' thing, they figured they owed it to themselves to reassert their place in the market.

The new list condemns "manipulative" genetic modification, carrying out experiments on humans, polluting the environment, causing social injustice, causing poverty, being "obscenely rich," and selling drugs. Oddly enough, the list itself omits the sin of paedophilia -- not presumably being considered "deadly " enough -- but a Vatican spokesman at least conceded this was a "mortal sin" which

had even infected the clergy itself and so had exposed the "human and institutional fragility of the Church." The mass media had “blown up” the issue “to discredit the Church”, but the Church itself was taking steps to deal with it.

Of course they are.

Now, one thing to notice about these sins is that they're just made up -- just made up in the sense that your little brother 'just makes up' the rules in the middle of a game. These aren't biblical sins, they didn't come from the head of God -- an angel didn't appear to the Pope or his angels giving them this new dispensation. When Bishop Girotti from the frighteningly-named Apostolic Penitentiary, the Vatican body which oversees confessions and plenary indulgences, says that "priests must take account of new sins which have appeared on the horizon of humanity as a corollary of the unstoppable process of globalisation," what he's saying is that the church is no longer a leader, it's a follower -- humanity is playing its own games, few people now want to play with them, and like a small boy (oops!) the church is desperate to find some way to catch up and join in and make money. When the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary concedes that surveys show 60 per cent of Catholics even in Catholic Italy no longer go to confession, what he's saying is that fewer and fewer people are finding any relevance in the church, and the church is worried.

That's a good thing. This new list is simply a last desperate tilt by a church on the edge of irrelevance -- a desperate church that has looked at itself and decided to head back to its core business: selling guilt for money.

After all, there's a very venal reason for the church get in on this latest scam. It's been pointed out all over that the idea of buying 'carbon offsets' to allay concerns about the carbon emissions of the likes of events like Live Earth are somewhat similar to the indulgences that the various Popes used to sell to rich parishioners to pay for new churches. The church invented the scam -- St Peters in Rome was built on the back of these indulgences -- and now they want to take it over again.

NB: Just for clarity, the BBC reports the seven 'new' sins to be:

  1. Environmental pollution

  2. Genetic manipulation

  3. Accumulating excessive wealth

  4. Inflicting poverty

  5. Drug trafficking and consumption

  6. Morally debatable experiments

  7. Violation of fundamental rights of human nature

UPDATE: Susan the Libertarian has her own list of seven sins for Pope Ben:

1. Tax. All taxes. Tax is theft, Ben, and a contravention of your boss's seventh commandment.

2. Censorship. All censorship. It is thought control.

3. The Electoral Finance Act. Yes, it's censorship, but it's such a travesty it deserves its own spot.

4. The Greens. Having lost the economic battle when the Soviet Union fell over, they swapped their red cardigans for green ones by playing the environmental card. 21st-century frauds.

5. Do-Gooders. Those who have no qualms in telling us all what to do, and always for our own good. You know them: they support all the usual causes and they're invariably white, middle-aged socialists. The worst.

6. AGW. Warmists. The zealots thereof. Those Who Must Not Be Questioned. They are today's reactionaries and every bit as frightening as their counterparts of old.

7. Reality TV and all 20-somethings in the pages of the women's mags. Brainless, mind-numbing and almost impossible to tell one from the other.

UPDATE 2: The Lay Science Blog analyses the not-quite encyclical and concludes, "I don't see how you can follow a set of statements that - when you analyze them - are basically meaningless..."

Suitably vague, and at times nonsensical, you can't help but wonder if they ran them through a focus group first. No doubt they'll repackage the Ten Commandments next. Oh, and they're predictably anti-science.

The new list is not as snappy as the original: pride; envy; gluttony; lust; anger and greed are joined by: environmental pollution; genetic manipulation; accumulating excessive wealth; inflicting poverty; drug trafficking and consumption; morally debatable experiments and the violation of fundamental rights of human nature. A quick glance reveals two interesting things, 1) that two of these are a direct attack on science, and 2) that they are so vague as to be meaningless. Let's take each one in turn, and then we'll look at what this means for Vatican policy.

UPDATE 3:   Hallelujah! says Lindsay Perigo.  "Sin comes of age" -- New Age.

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